Fresh arepas and God as a new parent: The Mark Webster Reading Series

Thursday, December 3, 2020 - 4:19pm

A truly accurate portrayal of home and family often evades even the most adept of writers. Their universality works in direct contrast to their seeming ineffability. Nevertheless, these elusive constructs, when communicated correctly, prove to be some of the most effective techniques by which a writer may bridge the gap between the reader’s soul and their own.

The Virtual Mark Webster Reading Series, hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Art, provides an outlet for emerging writers of fiction and poetry to share their work with their colleagues as well as their friends, families and the surrounding community. Last week, Literature, Science & Arts MFA students Lauren Morrow and David Freeman introduced two exemplary writers in the Helen Zell Writers Program: Catalina Bode (Fiction) and Chris Crowder (Poetry).

In a time where a sense of closeness is a distant memory, the two writers managed to traverse the cybernetic ether and craft unique yet wonderfully relatable narratives. Catalina Bode, a fiction MFA candidate, shared an excerpt from her novel, “Cardinal in the Dogwood,” which follows the lives of sisters Luz and Paloma, who venture away from their childhood home in the hope of creating a new life in a coastal town 1000 miles away.  

Bode’s strength lies in her uncanny ability to paint a scene. From the scent of freshly ground cornmeal used to make arepas to the sound of minuscule insects colliding with the surface of a windshield, Bode spares no detail in crafting her meticulously constructed scenes. Bode’s detailed gustatory descriptions leave the reader in fits of hunger — familial closeness is displayed through carefully prepared dishes.

The bond between Luz and Paloma develops beautifully as they both attempt to survive on their own for the first time in their lives. It propels them through the disappointments they encounter as a result of poverty and allows them to experience joy in spite of hardship. Bode’s excerpt leaves the sisters at a crossroad — Paloma is intent on leaving the country, while Luz is pregnant. Bode creates a sense of home and belonging that transcends time and space, and will likely follow these sisters as they embark on their respective journeys.

In the words of Literature, Science & Arts MFA Poetry student Nadia Mota, the poetry of Chris Crowder “combines the habitual with the whole, the mundane with the miraculous.” Such a description perfectly encapsulates the paradox of Crowder’s work. His poetry details the complexities of the universe through the invocation of familial symbolism. In his work, he imagines God as a Black father and his own parents as astronauts returning from a long day in space.

The juxtaposition of whimsy and existential query is one that resonates on a level somewhere between the heart and the brain. Crowder mixes biting imagery with onomatopoeic rhythm in his poem “The end of the universe is called The Big Crunch, which may lead to another Big Bang.” The ethereal otherworldliness of the work, when considered in tandem with other poems such as “Sacrifice for the future astronaut,” simultaneously includes and alienates the reader in its oddly universal specificity.

In his portrayal of God as a parental figure, Crowder is able to eliminate the incomprehensibility that often arises from contemplating the nature of an infinite and omnipotent deity. Instead, he poses existential questions in the framework of a familial context.

This reading series showcased the works of two young writers, both of whom undoubtedly have great things in store for lovers of poetry and prose. For future readings, tune in via Zoom on Jan. 22 to hear the selected works of Kashona Notah (Fiction) and Nathan Kweku John (Poetry).

Daily Arts Contributor Darby Williams can be reached at darw@umich.edu.


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